After a fantastic 2021-22 regular season, the Calgary Flames and its fanbase were preparing for what they all believed could be a lengthy playoff run. Things started off well, as they were able to get past the Dallas Stars in the opening round after a thrilling Game 7 overtime win. That success failed to be carried over to the second round, however; they were eliminated by the Edmonton Oilers in just five games.
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While the playoff exit was frustrating, there is still plenty that this group can be proud of. Entering the season, they were viewed as a fringe playoff team by most, but instead went on to win the Pacific Division. A huge reason for their success was the play of Johnny Gaudreau, who we will be taking a look at here today.
One thing to note on these player report cards is that they will focus just on regular season play. Due to the Flames’ playoff run lasting just 12 games, it seems more fair to judge them on this season based on their 82-game sample instead. With that said, let’s take a look at how Gaudreau faired in 2021-22.
After two iffy seasons by his standards in which he recorded a combined 37 goals and 107 points in 126 games, Gaudreau re-established himself as one of the game’s elite wingers in 2021-22. The 28-year-old put up career highs with 40 goals and 115 points. That point total not only led all Flames’ skaters, but trailed only Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers for the league lead.
What made Gaudreau’s 115-point campaign so special was that the majority of his production came at even strength. In fact, his 90 even-strength points led the league by a wide margin, as McDavid was next up in that category with 78.
While his offensive contributions were elite, he was fantastic defensively as well. His game away from the puck had been something throughout his career that had caught flack at times, but that changed in 2021-22. In fact, his head coach Darryl Sutter proclaimed in early January that he was one of the best 200-foot players in the game. His plus/minus of plus-64, which is the best total the league has seen since Wayne Gretzky back in 1986-87, certainly helps back that claim up.
Turned Into a Leader
When Darryl Sutter was brought in as the Flames’ head coach during the 2020-21 campaign, many questioned whether or not Gaudreau would fit in with him. After all, while the undersized winger was known for his great offensive abilities, his defensive game — something Sutter has always been known for — was lacking.
By no means was Gaudreau ever a bad teammate, but he never seemed overly committed to improving his two-way game, something that at times had certain crowds questioning his overall desire. Likely in relation to that, he had never worn a letter during his time in Calgary despite being one of the team’s longest tenured players. However, that all changed very recently.
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With Chris Tanev being forced to miss Games 1-3 vs. the Oilers due to injuries sustained in the opening round, the Flames found themselves down a leader. Without much hesitation, Sutter quickly chose to give Tanev’s “A” to Gaudreau, showing just how much growing he has done over the past few years.
Flames Hoping to Keep Him Around
Though the Flames’ playoff run ended much sooner than anybody had hoped, Gaudreau was hardly to blame. While he did go quiet in the final few games vs. the Oilers, his 14 points in 12 games not only led the team but proved that he can produce in the much more physical playoff environment.
While his solid playoff performance and fantastic regular season were great to see, it will make things difficult for the Flames moving forward. With his contract now expired, general manager Brad Treliving will have to do his best to ensure the two sides are able to work out a new deal. If not, there is a possibility Gaudreau walks as a free agent this summer.
On his previous six-year deal, Gaudreau had a very team friendly $6.75 million cap hit. That number is expected to increase in a major way for him, with some believing he could command as much as $10 million on the open market. Where that ends up remains to be seen, but what is for sure is that he had not only his best season, but one of the best regular seasons in franchise history.